Ruth Chartrand of Silver Spring has a trait that reminds me of my first wife. Ruth likes to keep me busy.
Neither Ruth nor my wife can endure the thought that I might, God forbid, be idle for a few moments. They like to think up interesting assignments for me.
The latest from Ruth was, "Some states still do not have state income tax laws in effect as of 1979. Can you name them?"
The question piqued my curiosity. It recalled an acquaintance who had moved from the Washington area when he retired a few years ago.
During his final months of employment, he had mentioned he could save money by moving to a state without an income tax levy.
His retirement nest egg consisted almost entirely of stock in the company for which he worked plus his house and several acres of land around it.
"My company's stock has soared in value," he explained, "but I can't live in retirement on the small dividend it pays. So I'll have to sell the stock and put the money into things that pay high dividends, and that means I'll have to pay the federal government a lot of capital gains tax. I'll also have to pay a lot of federal tax on my real estate profits. So before I cash in my chips, I think I'd better find me a place that doesn't have a state income tax. No use paying double taxes if I can avoid it."
A place that doesn't charge a state income tax? Is there such a blessed place? Where? Can a taxpayer achieve nirvana while he is still alive, or is death the only doorway that leads to tax relief?
Before I could get a report on what my friend's research had turned up, he was gone. And I haven't heard from him since. So Ruth Chartrand's question served as a reminder for me.
I turned to the 1980 World Almanac, which answered my question indirectly rather than directly. It doesn't list states that have no state income levy. But it does list states that do -- and I found no listings for Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington or Wyoming. Connecticut and Tennessee do not tax salaries, but my retired friend is not likely to have moved to either of those states. Connecticut taxes capital gains and dividends. Tennessee taxes interest and dividends.
For upper bracket taxpayers, the states of Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming may appear to be the six districts into which Tax Heaven is divided.
However, as my philosophical friend Leo Farrell used to say, "What you make on the merry-go-around you lose on the Ferris wheel. In the end, it all comes out even."
Some of the states that don't collect an income tax provide their residents with fewer services. Some make up for the lost tax dollars through other revenue or higher taxes on other things.
If a shopping center developer has offered you a zillion dollars for what used to be your daddy's farm, it might pay you to become a resident of Tax Heaven during the year in which you accept his money. After you pay the federal tax on you zillion, avoiding a second bite by a state may strike you as a goal worth striving for.
If you don't like the weather or the girls or you neighbors in Tax Heaven, you can always move back here the next year. We'll be glad to have you back -- especially if you haven't spent the after-tax portion of the zillion yet. PROFITS & PROPHETS
As long as we are on the dismal subject of income taxes -- federal, state, county and/or municipal -- let me share some information just in from Ruth Sutherland Hopkins.
When Ruth opened J. K. Lasser's current instruction manual for those who fill out their own income tax forms, she came upon an index that included the chapter heading, "Guidelines for Useful Lives."
"Heavenly days," Ruth thought. "What is a philosophical topic of this kind doing in a book about how to cope with our income tax laws?" She immediately turned to the indicated page, but was disappointed to discover that it dealt with depreciation schedules based on the useful life that can be assigned to a capital asset.
Ruth, I feel as let down as you did. What this country needs is a whole new generation of tax experts to replace J. K. Lasser and his clones. We need people who can not only tell us what the law demands of use but who can also lead us in prayer and fasting, in protest against those demands.
I'm sorry, J. K. Lasser, but unless your 1981 edition contains a chapter titled, "Philosophical Guidelines for the Shorn," the District Line column will brand you a false prophet, as in "short-term prophet." POSTSCRIPT
With 5,000 investigative reporters adding to the rush-hour congestion in Washington, has any one of them ever told us who makes out J. K. Lasser's personal tax return?